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The God Varuna in the Rig- Veda 









I. INTRODUCTORY: The Rig- Veda in Relation to the Present 

Awakening in India. 

The Rig-Veda has the honour of being the oldest book in Indian 
literature and one of the oldest books in the literature of the world. It is 
at least as old, i.e., the hymns of which it is composed, as the Homeric 
cycle of poems, and it may possibly be much older. Scholars agree that 
the 1028 hymns which constitute the Rig-Veda Sanhita or Collection were 
edited about B. C. 600. That date then represents the final limit as regards 
authorship. How many centuries were covered by the composition of the 
hymns is a matter of uncertainty. In fact, as yet the chronology of the 
Rig-Veda is a chaos of conflicting opinions. The orthodox opinion in 
India is that the Vedas are eternal. Critical scholars are divided into two 
camps, those favoring an early date and those favoring a late date. 
Professor Hopkins of Yale, perhaps the greatest authority in the world on 
the Epic literature of India, and Professor Jackson of Columbia, well 
known as a Zoroastrian scholar, both agree in holding that the bulk of the 
Rig-Vedic hymns were composed during the two centuries 800-600 B. C. 
As Professor Hopkins puts it, "One thousand B. C. is not the lowest but 
the highest limit that we can reasonably set to the Rig-Veda, and 800 B. C. 
is probably nearer the mark, as far as the bulk of the Rig-Veda is con- 
cerned." * According to this view the earliest Vedic literature is contem- 
poraneous with the earliest Hebrew literature. Briefly stated, their 
grounds for such a late date are as follows: (1) The date of Zoroaster is 
now generally fixed at 660-583 B. C; and, since there is only a dialectic 
difference between the language of the Rig-Veda and that of the Avesta r 
there can be no great interval in time between the two works, the date 
of Zoroaster of course determining the date of the oldest part of the 
Avesta. (2) The change in language between the Rig-Veda and the 
Upanisads is not greater than that between Chaucer and Milton, and hence 
it is fair to suppose that about 200 years would suffice in the one case as 
well as in the other. (3) The Rishis who composed the hymns may very 
well have been in large measure contemporary one with another, and 
certain differences may be accounted for simply by variety ol authorship. 
At the opposite pole from Hopkins and Jackson stand Tilak and Jaeobi, 
who on the basis of astronomical calculations would carry the period of 
the composition of the Vedic hymns back beyond B. C. 8600 as far at least 
as to 3500 and according to Tilak even to 4500. The Tilak-.laeobi thesis 
has not met with favour at the hands of scholars, such as Weber. Whitney. 
Oldenberg, Thibaut, Hopkins and Maedonell. Apart from the assumed 
astronomical data, however, Jaeobi urges that the norm of European 
progress cannot be applied to India on account of its isolated position and 

1 India Old and New, p. ;?0. 

the consequent independent character of its development. And he empha- 
sizes the fact that the dates assumed by himself for the Vedic period are 
not greater than are accepted by scholars for the civilization of the 
Euphrates and the Nile. Without endorsing the Tilak-Jacobi theory sev- 
eral scholars have on other grounds advocated an early date. Thus the 
late Professor Buhler was of the opinion that the conquest and brahman- 
ization of India compells us to postulate a much earlier date for the be- 
ginning of the Vedic period than 1000 or 1200 B. C. Following him Win- 
ternitz x declares that from the standpoint of Indian history there is noth- 
ing against the view that Vedic literature goes back to the third millenium 
and the beginnings of Indian culture to the fourth millenium B. C. Profes- 
sor Bloomfield, too, of Johns Hopkins has joined the ranks of those who are 
"now much more inclined to listen to an early date, say 2000 B. C, for the 
beginnings of Vedic literary production, and to a much earlier date for 
the beginnings of the institutions and religious concepts" 2 thereof. From 
these widely differing views of equally competent scholars it is clear that 
positive data are as yet lacking for determining the chronology of the 
Vedic period. The only formula which adequately describes the indefinite- 
ness of the Vedic age is that suggested by Winternitz, namely X to about 
500 B. C, the symbol X being the terminus a quo. Scholars who bring 
forward considerations based upon the length of time assumed to be 
necessary for a particular development, linguistic, literary, or historical, 
as the case may be, often forget that in literature and history as well as in 
religion one day may be as a thousand years and a thousand years as one 
day; that is, the literary and political development may at one time drag 
very slowly and at another time proceed with leaps and bounds. If the 
development of the invading Aryan tribes was rapid — and the development 
of an invading population is not unlikely to be rapid, — then a period of 
four hundred years might well suffice for the composition of the Vedic 
hymns and the spread of Vedic culture as assumed in the hypothesis of 
Hopkins and Jackson and exemplified in the development of the new world 
after its discovery in 1492. But if, on the contrary, the development was 
slow, then the period suggested by Buhler, Winternitz and Bloomfield may 
be none too large. What is needed to set all this uncertainty at rest is the 
discovery of positive data bearing upon the problem. Such data must 
clearly be archaeological. The Vedic Indians lived for centuries and pos- 
sibly for milleniums in and about the Panjab. They must have left 
archaeological remains of some sort, which are to be looked for at the 
hottom of the great mounds in the northern and eastern Panjab. From 
500 B. C. to 800 or 1000 B. C. there was more or less commercial inter- 
course between the Euphrates and the Indus. If the Vedic age was com- 
paratively late, a lucky archaeological find may establish a synchronism. 
At any rate there is no need of becoming hopeless, so long as the mounds 
of the Panjab are not attacked by the spade. Even as it is, the considera- 
tions adduced by Hopkins and Jackson are, in the opinion of the writer of 
this paper, so strong as to throw the burden of proof upon any one who 

1 Geschichte cler Indischen Litteratur, 1904, S. 254. 

2 The Religion of the Veda, 1908, p. 20. 

■ riff 
HAY 1C 1910 

defends an earlier date for the beginning of the Vedic age than 1500 or at 
the very outside 2000 B. C. 

The Rig-Veda is the Vedic Book par excellence. Chronologically, as we 
have seen, it is the oldest book in Indian literature. Theoretically, it is 
the most sacred, as it heads the list of books which come under sruti or 
"revelation." The word Veda, which is cognate with the Greek oida, 
Latin vid-eo, German weiss, English wit, means wisdom or knowledge and 
Rig (Rik) is the name for laudatory verse or stanza. Hence the com- 
pound word Rig-Veda may be translated by "verse-wisdom." It is the 
earliest and most sacred wisdom of the Indian Aryans set forth in the form 
of verses or stanzas which are grouped in hymns. The unit of revelation, 
as in the Quran, seems to be the verse. 

The Rig-Veda collection is only one among four collections. There is 
in addition the Saman or Chant-Veda, the Yajus or Veda of sacrificial 
formulas, and the Atharvan or Veda of "popular religion." The four 
Vedas are not unconnected with one another. Thus all the stanzas of the 
Sama-Veda except seventy-five are found in the Rig-Veda. The Yajur- 
Veda and the Atharva-Veda also have a considerable amount of material 
in common with the Rig-Veda. What we really have, then, in the Four 
Vedas is the distribution of the original Vedic material into four Sanhitas 
or "Collections." The Four Vedas are a fourfold presentation of the 
primitive Veda, very much as the Four Gospels are a fourfold presenta- 
tion of the primitive Gospel. By the "primitive Veda" of course is meant 
the poetic material of the Vedic age before it was collected. The poetic 
material existing in the various Vedic clans and priestly families consisted 
as the four historic collections show, of "a heterogeneous combination of 
old hymns, charms, philosophical poems, and popular songs, most, but not 
all of which are of religious content." x The motive which determined 
not only the composition of most of the Vedic hymns but also their collec- 
tion and preservation was a religious one. Of the metrical stanzas in 
Vedic literature fully one half occur in the Rig-Veda. The Rig-Veda has 
furnished nearly all the stanzas for the Sama-Veda, one-fourth of the 
matter for the Yajur-Veda, and a considerable part of the contents of the 
Atharva-Veda. The Rig-Veda, then, is a great documentary source for 
the other three Vedas, very much as the Gospel of Mark is a chief source 
for the Canonical Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Each of the four hymn- 
collections has its own elucidative literature in the form of Brakmanas 
which expound and develop the ritualistic element in the hymns, the 
Upanisads which do the same thing for the philosophical element, and the 
Sutras which are mnemonic compendia of the Vedic ritual and customary 
law. Thus by Veda in the narrow sense we mean the Rig- Veda; in a 
wider sense, the Four Vedas; and in the widest sense of all, the whole 
cycle of Vedic literature. The extent of the existing Vedic literature may 
be estimated from the fact that about one hundred and twenty texts have 
contributed to the Vedic Concordance of Professor Bloomfield. The Rig- 
Veda itself is about equal in bulk to the Iliad and Odyssey combined. 

The Vedic Aryans, whose first and greatest literary monument is the 

Hopkins, op. cit., p. 23. 

Rig- Veda, appear in the Vedic age with their faces turned eastward. That 
is, they came from the west or north-west, entering India from without. 
The references to mountains and rivers found in the hymns show that the 
Vedic tribes occupied the northern and eastern parts of the Panjab. The 
history of India is the history of the movement eastward and southward 
of the Aryan religion, language and culture, until the whole of India was 
more or less aryanized. That the Vedic tribes came from the west is 
proved not only from the fact that the Aryan line of march was from the 
west eastward, but also from the close connection which exists between 
the language and institutions of the Persian Aryans and the Indian 
Aryans. The Indo-Persian Aryans, as is well known, belonged, probably 
in blood and certainly in language, to the great Indo-European family. 
The contributions of the various groups within the Indo-European family 
have been diverse. The great contribution of Greece has been art; of 
Rome, law, and of the Teutonic world, liberty. While the most conspicu- 
ous contribution of both India and Persia has been religion. The Indo- 
Iranian peoples have furnished two national religions, Brahmanism and 
Zoroastrianism, and one international or "world" religion, Buddhism. 
Thus in the matter of religion Indian Aryan and Persian Aryan have been 
close competitors with Hebrew and Arab. And the continent which in 
these days is awakening out of sleep has been the mother of all the great 
historic religions of the world. The awakening of Asia ought to mean, in 
the long run, an awakening of that spiritual instinct, that religious cre- 
ativeness, by which in the past the whole world has been enriched. The 
Vedic Aryans, who entered India sometime between 5000 B. C. and 1200 
B. C. (probably nearer the later date than the earlier) were a manly race 
of shepherds and farmers who had a most healthy love of the good things 
of life. In their prayers to the gods as found in the Vedic hymns they 
asked for victory over enemies, long life, large families of sturdy sons, 
and plenty of cows. That their prayers sometimes took a higher flight 
will be illustrated later. It is sufficient to emphasize at this point that 
their desires were predominantly for very material and tangible good, — 
for food, and cows, and sons, and victory. In fact, the Aryan tribes when 
they invaded the Panjab and laid the foundations of an Aryanized India 
were not at all unlike the Jutes and Angles and Saxons who invaded 
Britain and laid the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon world. Both groups 
of peoples were adventurous in spirit, ready for migration, and hard 
fighters. If the encounter between Anglo-Saxon and Briton meant war 
to the death, the encounter between Aryan and Dasa on the plains of the 
Panjab meant also either death or slavery for the latter. And let us re- 
member that the Aryan who invaded India and the Anglo-Saxon who in- 
vaded Britain were kinsmen, language-brothers certainly and probably 
blood-brothers. "Wherever either of them went, he went to rule. We have 
already seen that the Vedic Aryans were cheery and optimistic, lovers of 
life and of the good things of life. One of the most striking contrasts in 
the history of thought is the contrast between the optimism of the Vedic 
age and the pessimism which gradually settled down like a pall upon the 
spirit of India and finally obtained its creedal statement in Buddha's doc- 


trine of suffering. Certain other contrasts may also be specified. Earliest 
India, i. e., the India of the Rig- Veda, cherished the belief in personal 
existence after death, as e. g. in the "highest step" of Vishnu, the sun- 
home of the soul, a place symbolized by the sun in the zenith, where the 
sainted dead are happy by the side of Vishnu's "well of honey." But in 
later India, i. e. from the time of the Upanisads onward, transmigration 
is the dominant view in eschatology. Earlier India is without the ascetic 
ideal, so far as can be gathered from the Rig-Vedic hymns, its priests 
being frank and unabashed lovers of "bakhshish" ; whereas for later 
India the religious ideal is that of renunciation, the ideal of the yellow 
robe and the begging bowl. But, as already stated, the greatest contrast 
between earliest India and later India is the contrast between optimism 
and pessimism. The Rig-Vedic age was an age of endeavour, an age of 
appreciation for the good things of life, and of longing for them. But 
ere long "the native hue of [Vedic] resolution was sicklied o'er by the 
pale cast of thought." What it was that transformed Vedic optimism into 
the later Brahmanical and Buddhistic pessimism is not quite certain. 
Possibly Bloomfield is right in saying that "India herself, through her 
climate, her nature, and her economic conditions, furnishes reasonable 
ground for pessimism." 1 It must be admitted that the Vedic Aryans were 
able to live a long time in the Panjab without becoming pessimists, cen- 
turies at the very least and possibly milleniums. It is a remarkable fact, 
too, that the present awakening in India is characterized by an optimistic 
appreciation of the good things of this life, such as education, representa- 
tive government, religious reform, agricultural improvement, social wel- 
fare, good bank deposits, etc., etc., and by a strenuous endeavour to secure 
these things. In this respect Young India is clasping hands with the Old 
India of the Rig-Veda, and the emphasis is somewhat less upon other- 
worldliness than heretofore. Doubtless many things have contributed to 
bring about this awakening, e. g. the contact of the meditative Aryan of 
the East with the more practical Aryan of the West, the mingling and 
clashing of the religious ideals of India with those of Arabia and Pales- 
tine, and the splendid peace and security guaranteed to the whole of India 
by the British Government. It is true, India is so densely populated that 
the standard of living is very low. India is a land, too, of drought and 
famine, of plague and cholera, and of venomous snakes. And in addition, 
before the advent of the British Government, India was a land of chronic 
warfare and pillage. There was some ground for pessimism especially in 
the good old days. But great changes have taken place. War and pillage 
have ceased. Irrigation has increased the area of soil capable of cultiva- 
tion. The enlargement of the railway system in India makes it now pos- 
sible to send food rapidly into famine districts. The appliances of modern 
medical science are used against plague and cholera. Five Universities 
minister to the intellectual needs of the land. Thus life is becoming 
gradually a more tolerable thing in India. And as the cause of this the 
greatest agent on the material and intellectual side is the British Govern- 
ment. Studies in history, politics, and economics, have given to the young 

Religion of the Veda, p. 264. 

men of India a larger outlook. The victory of little Japan over the giant 
of the North brought to India also a consciousness of power. In the light 
of these facts is it any wonder that the awakening of India is marked by 
an attitude of strenuous endeavour and of great hopefulness? Something 
of the Buoyancy of the Vedic age is returning, its love of life and of life's 
good things and its readiness to strive for them. The pendulum is return- 
ing to where it was before. "The pale cast of thought" which has charac- 
terized India throughout the centuries is gradually giving way to India's 
primitive, "native" and Vedic "hue of resolution." This change represents 
one of the most outstanding results of the meeting of East and West. And 
what does it all mean except this that the strenuousness and love of life 
found reflected in the hymns of the Rig-Veda are more consonant with 
western ideals than with those hitherto associated with the meditative 

It is to be hoped, however, that the process of the assimilation of East 
to West may not be carried too far. What a pity it would be, if the 
characteristic elements in the Indian consciousness, its sense of the un- 
seen, its conviction of the supreme importance of the spiritual, its master- 
ful repose, should ever go down in a mad rush after material ends. What 
a pity it would be if India should ever forget a truth once voiced by a man 
of Asiatic birth: "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the 
things which he possesseth." 1 The Indian type of consciousness is, as it 
were, a tropical plant trained up in the age long isolation of India, the 
product of all the influences, climatic, geographic, ethnological and his- 
torical, which have played upon India from the beginning. Whatever 
contribution India has made to the world's good in the past has been 
along the line of her own specific endowment. So will it be in the future. 
Whatever may be the permanent value of the metaphysical conclusions to 
which the sages of ancient India attained, the type and attitude of mind 
which formulated the conclusions is, in the opinion of the writer of this 
paper, even more valuable than the conclusions formulated. The writer 
of this paper, a Christian missionary in India, is looking for a great con- 
tribution from this same Indian consciousness, to help solve the problems 
of Christian interpretation, thought, and life. It may be said that part 
of India's contribution has already been made, and there is truth in this. 
The doctrine of the divine immanence, in however exaggerated a form it 
has been held in India, has helped to correct the deistic tendency toward 
an exaggerated transcendence. And the doctrine of Karma, namely that 
"whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" deserves a larger 
development in Christian theology than it has yet received. 

There is no great fear that the best elements in the Indian conscious- 
ness will ever be lost. The forces which helped to mould and fashion this 
particular type of mind are also present to conserve it. During the process 
of awakening now going on in India the pendulum will undoubtedly swing 
for a time toward the material and the secular. This will mean simply 
that India has discovered that "the life that now is" has its rights as 
well as "the life that is to come." But more than this, India's thought can 

1 Luke xii. 15. 

never influence the world as it should, until there has been a PurgatiO' 
intellectus, a purging of the understanding. What better calculated to 
give poise and sanity to India's thought than just the attempt to under- 
stand "the life that now is" through the study of the empirical sciences of 
this present life such as physics, chemistry, biology, history, economics, 
psychology, etc., studies enthusiastically pursued by multitudes of young 
men in the Indian Universities at the present time. When through the 
intelligence and effort and sacrifice of the people of India life in that land 
becomes a more tolerable thing and the hitherto-existing grounds of 
pessimism have been largely removed, when ''the life that now is" is 
valued at its true worth, whether found in Brahman or woman or pariah, 
then the conclusions of the thinkers of India on the problems of "the life 
to come" will carry still greater weight. And the interesting thing is, in 
this connection, that the growing appreciation of the value of the present 
life, now observable in India, marks a kind of return to the spirit of the 
Rig- Veda, even as the spirit of the Vedic Aryan was in many respects akin 
to the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon. Without such a return to the spirit of 
the Rig- Veda India would be faithless to one part of her ancient heritage. 
It is one of the great merits of the British administration in India that it 
has helped the people of India to rediscover a highly important, but 
almost forgotten, part of their spiritual inheritance. 


In the second part of this paper I hope to be as concrete as in the first 
part I have been abstract. To this end we shall begin with the most 
notable group of Varuna hymns found in the Rig-Veda, namely hymns 
86-89 of book seven. The Rig-Veda is divided into ten mandalas or books. 
Of these the central nucleus and probably earliest portion is made up of 
books two to seven inclusive, the so-called "family books," each of these 
books being assigned by tradition to a definite, priestly family. Book 
seven, then, is the last of the family books. Without further preliminaries 
let us plunge in medias res. We shall begin with Rig-Veda vii, 86, of 
which a metrical translation is herewith subjoined. 

1. Wise is the world's creation through the greatness 
Of him who fixed the earth and sky asunder, 
And lifted up the spacious vault of heaven 
Studded with stars, and earth beneath extended. 

2. With mine own heart I meditate this question: 
"With Varuna when shall I be united? 

What gift of mine will he unangered welcome? 
When shall I happy-hearted see his mercy?" 

3. Wishing to know my sin I make inquiry, 
I go about to all the wise and ask them; 
With one accord they gave to me this answer: 

" 'Tis Varuna, whose wrath is hot against thee." 

4. O Varuna, what was my chief transgression, 

That thou would'st slay a friend who sings thy praises? 

Tell me, god undeceivable and sovereign, 
That sinless I may quickly give thee homage. 

5. Release from us the wrongs our sires committed, 
As well as those committed by our own selves; 
As a cow-thief, King, (unties) a young calf, 
So set thou free Vasistha from the fetter. 

6. 'Twas not my will, O Varuna, 'twas delusion, 
Wine, anger, dice, or lack of thought, that caused it; 
Old age participates in offences youthful, 

Sleep even is a cause of sinful doings. 

7. Slave-like will I, when once my sin is pardoned, 
Serve him the merciful, erewhile the angry; 
The kindly lord gives wisdom to the simple, 
And leads the wise to riches, he a wiser. 

8. May this my praise-song, Varuna, Sovereign ruler, 
Speak to thy heart and make thee all-complaisant; 
May it be well with us in rest and labour, 

Ye gods, protect us evermore with blessings. 

A few words with reference to metre and poetical form. "The units 
of Vedic metre are the verse, the stanza and the hymn." * The word for 
verse is pada or "foot," not foot in the modern sense of poetic measure, 
but in the sense of verse-line. Thus the first "foot" of the hymn given 
above is the line, "Wise is the world's creation through the greatness." 
The name pada "foot" was given to such a line of poetry, apparently be- 
cause most stanzas have four lines just as cows have four feet, and so the 
word "foot" seemed an appropriate name for one quarter of the verse-cow. 
We shall see, however, that some verse-cows have to hobble on three feet, 
even as real cows sometimes have to do when they are lame. One must 
early get accustomed to the bucolic imagery of the Rig-Veda. We have 
an example of it in this very hymn in the following passage (translated 
however not quite literally) : 

"As a cow-thief, O King, (unties) a young calf 
So set thou free Vasistha from the fetter." 

The first four lines of the hymn constitute the first stanza or Rig (ric) : 

"Wise is the world's creation through the greatness 
Of him who fixed the earth and sky asunder, 
And lifted up the spacious vault of heaven, 
Studded with stars, and earth beneath extended." 

A group of stanzas constitutes a hymn. In the present hymn there 
are eight stanzas. It is composed in the tristubh metre, the most com- 
monly used metre in the whole Rig-Veda. The tristubh stanza consists of 
four eleven-syllable lines. The first line of this hymn reads thus in Vedic: 
Dhira tu asya mahina janunsi |, the translation into English being "Wise 
is the world's creation through the greatness." This is very much like 

Arnold, Vedic Metre, 

Chaucer's ten-syllable line with the added eleventh syllable, e. g. "When 
that Aprille with his showres swoote." The Vedic hymns have a pitch 
or musical accent, very much like that in Greek. 

Coming now to the religious content of this hymn we notice that it 
contains references to the two things which filled the mind of Kant with 
awe, namely the starry heaven above and the moral law within. Varuna 
is the creator of heaven and earth. He fixed the earth and sky asunder, 
lifting up the spacious vault of heaven and spreading the earth out be- 
neath. The greatness of Varuna is revealed in creation. The first verse 
of vii. 86 is the Vedic counterpart of Psalm xix. 1: "The heavens declare 
the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Varuna is 
an absolute sovereign and king. Throughout the Rig-Veda as a whole "the 
attribute of sovereignty is in a predominant manner appropriated to 
Varuna." 1 So much for "the starry heavens above" and the attributes of 
Varuna as creator and sovereign. There remains "the moral law within," 
the attitude of Varuna toward moral evil, and the attitude of the sinner 
toward Varuna. The priestly singer Vasistha, to whom the great majority 
of the hymns of the seventh book are ascribed by tradition (and possibly 
with correctness in some cases including the present) was a kind of Vedic 
analogue of David "the sweet singer of Israel." He comes before us in 
the second, third and fourth stanzas of our hymn in an introspective and 
troubled attitude, wondering what sin he has committed, asking the wise 
for their opinion, and finally making a direct appeal to Varuna. Let us. 
repeat the three stanzas: 

2. With mine own heart I meditate this question: 
"With Varuna when shall I be united? 

What gift of mine will he unangered welcome? 
When shall I happy-hearted see his mercy?" 

3. Wishing to know my sin I make inquiry, 
I go about to all the wise and ask them; 
With one accord they gave to me this answer, 

" 'Tis Varuna, whose wrath is hot against thee." 

4. O Varuna, what was my chief transgression, 

That thou wouldst slay a friend that sings thy praises? 
Tell me, god undeceivable and sovereign, 
That sinless I may quickly give thee homage. 

The question of the Vedic singer is twofold; first, "What sin have I com- 
mitted?", and secondly, "How am I to be at one again with Varuna who 
takes account of sin?" The Vedic singer's experience is like that of Job. 
He has been brought nigh to death through illness or other calamity. 
Varuna apparently wishes to slay him. He is made uneasy about himself. 
He asks his friends. They say that Varuna is angry with him. So said 
Job's friends. The Vedic singer prays to Varuna to tell him his trans- 
gression, especially his chief transgression. Note here as in early Hebra- 
ism the vital connection assumed to exist between suffering and sin. The 
Vedic poet is a sufferer. Therefore as his friends say and as he himself 

Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, p. 24. 


admits, he is a sinner. In stanza fifth there is the prayer for forgiveness: 

Release from us the wrongs our sires committed, 
As well as those committed by our own selves; 
As a cow-thief, O King, [unties] a young calf, 
bo set thou free Vasistha from the fetter. 

Here a certain solidarity in sin is recognized as between the fathers and 
their children. It is a conception which belongs to a primitive tribal state 
of society, where the unit of responsibility is the family or tribe rather 
than the individual. It reminds us of the phrase in Ex. xx. 5, "Visiting 
the iniquity of the fathers upon the children," and the confession in 
Ps. li. 5, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother con- 
ceive me." The "fetter" referred to in the fourth line of the fifth stanza 
is doubtless the fetter of illness, disaster, or imminent death. The sixth 
stanza is remarkable because of its ethical content and because of the 
plea of human infirmity which it presents as an excuse for sin. 

'T was not my will, O Varuna, 't was delusion, 
Wine, anger, dice, or lack of thought, that caused it; 
Old age participates in offences youthful, 
Sleep even is a cause of sinful doings. 

Another way of saying that "to err is human" even in old age and in 
sleep. The poet says in effect: "I did not mean to commit sin. It was 
infatuation, wine, anger, dice, thoughtlessness, that did it." It reminds 
us of Paul's saying in Rom. vii. 20: "If what I would not, that I do, it is 
no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me." At any rate, we have 
here an impressive list of roots of sin in the Vedic age, drink, gambling, 
loss of temper, and thoughtlessness. 

The seventh verse expresses the poet's determination to serve Varuna 
like a slave, when once his sin has been forgiven. 

Slave-like will I, when once my sin is pardoned, 
Serve him the merciful, erewhile the angry. 

The word dasa "slave" is worth noticing. The Dasyus or Dasas were the 
aborigines who met the invading Aryans in deadly conflict and were 
either killed or reduced to slavery. Hence very naturally the word for 
slave was dasa, a member of the Dasa race, just as our word "slave" 
meant originally a member of the Slavonic race. The poet in effect says: 
"I will be just as much a bond-slave to Varuna, when once he has delivered 
me from the "fetter" or penalty of sin, as any Dasa is slave to an Aryan. 
Again we are reminded of Paul's words of devotion and thankful love: 
"Paul, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ .... who loved me and gave him- 
self up for me." x But Varuna not only forgives sin, but also gives wisdom 
to the simple, i. e. enables them to learn wisdom through experience of 
the fetters of sin; and then he restores worldly prosperity. 

The kindly lord gives wisdom to the simple, 

And leads the wise to riches, he a wiser. 
This also reminds us of two Biblical passages, Ps. xix. 7, "The testimony 

Rom. i. 1 ; Gal. ii. 21. 


of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple," and James i. 5, "If any of 
you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God." 

The eighth and last stanza is somewhat general in its nature and 
looks like an editorial addition: 

May this my praise-song, Varuna, sovereign ruler, 
Speak to thy heart and make thee all-complaisant; 
May it be well with us in rest and labour, 
Ye gods, protect us evermore with blessings. 

So the nineteenth Psalm ends: "Let the words of my mouth and the medi- 
tation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock and my 
redeemer." The last line however introduces a polytheistic note "Ye 
Gods," whereas the rest of the hymn has been monolatrous or even mono- 
theistic in tone. Since the last line stands at the end of a considerable 
number of other hymns in the seventh book, many of which are not ad- 
dressed to Varuna, it at least must be taken as the work of an editor. 

According to this hymn Varuna's attributes are wisdom, greatness, 
creative power, sovereignty, holiness (manifesting itself in wrath on ac- 
count of sin), and mercy, when the sinner is penitent. Thus both the 
natural and the moral attributes are well represented. The consciousness 
of sin on the part of the stricken poet is very real, although perhaps not 
the profoundest possible. It is not so much the defilement of sin as the 
suffering involved, that engages the poet's thought. But even so it is an 
impressive illustration of the fact that one great mission of suffering is to 
make people more than usually sensitive to moral distinctions. Certainly 
the poet was thus sensitive, and he pours out his soul before Varuna quite 
in the spirit of the choicest penitential Psalms of the Old Testament. 
There is also a beautiful recognition on the part of the Vedic seer that 
Varuna's great gift of forgiveness calls for full surrender and grateful 

In this study of the theology of a single Vedic hymn you will be able 
to check my conclusions, so far as the translation which has been pre- 
sented is correct. I am indebted to Griffith's translation for a few phrases 
both in this hymn and in the following hymns translated. There are 
some uncertainties in this hymn, but nothing that can seriously affect its 
interpretation. To illustrate the uncertainty which attaches to the trans- 
lation of the first line of the hymn, several alternative renderings of it 
are here given: — 

Replete with might and wisdom is his nature — (Grassmann). 
Wise are the generations through his greatness — (Ludwig). 
His works bear witness to his might and wisdom — (Kaegi). 
Wise verily are creatures through his greatness — (Griffith). 
Wise, truly, and great is his own nature — (Bloomfield). 
All creatures through his might have their existence — (Geldner). 
Wise is the world's creation through his greatness. 

The experience of the seer Vasistha will now be studied in another 


RV. vii. 88. To Varuna. 

1. Present a praise-song beautiful, most pleasing, 
Vasistha, to King Varuna the gracious, 

Who forward leads to us the Bull exalted, 

The worshipful, and having thousand treasures. 

2. Now that at last I have come near and seen him, 
The face of Varuna seems like that of Agni; 
May the lord bring in heaven a wondrous vision 
For me to see, be it of light or darkness. 

3. When Varuna and I take ship together, 
And forward steer our vessel to mid-ocean, 
When on the summits of the waves we travel, 
In ocean's swing may we swing on to glory. 

4. Varuna took on board with him Vasistha, 
Made him a Rishi by his might and working, 
A poet singer on a day auspicious, 

When skies and dawns stretched themselves out [unclouded]. 

5. What has become of this our ancient friendship, 
When without enmity we walked together; 
And I, Varuna, to thy lofty castle, 

Thy thousand-gated dwelling, had admittance? 

6. If, Varuna, a dear friend and companion, 

Such as I am of thine, have sinned against thee, 

May we not eat the fruit of our own doings, 

As sage grant shelter to the one who lauds thee. 

7. While we abide in these firm habitations, 
And from the lap of Aditi gain favour, 
May Varuna remove from us the fetter, 

Ye gods, protect us evermore with blessings. 

This hymn contains a retrospect. The sage Vasistha recalls his 
former friendship and intimacy with Varuna and how in a time of special 
communion Varuna had made him a Rishi or prophet. The time of 
Vasistha's prophetic call was a time of vision, when he saw the face of 
Varuna as if at had been the face of Agni (Fire), and a time of intimacy, 
when Varuna and he took ship together and went out alone into the mid- 
stream. We may compare with this Isaiah's vision and call. The hymn 
contains two pictures of the intimacy which Vasistha enjoyed with Varuna, 
(a) when he was in a boat at sea alone with Varuna, and (b) when as 
the guest of Varuna he had free access to his thousand-portaled house. 
But alas! this intimacy was broken through sin, and so there is prayer for 
forgiveness : 

If, Varuna, a dear friend and companion, 

Such as I am of thine, have sinned against thee, 

May I not eat the fruit of my own doings, 

As sage grant shelter to the one who lauds thee. 


The emphasis here also rests upon deliverance from penalty. "May we 
not as sinners against thee eat the fruit of sin" (v. 6). "May Varuna re- 
move from us the fetter" (v. 7). 

As regards his cosmic activities and nature, Varuna leads out the lofty 
bull (or strong one), a name for the sun. Compare Ps. xix. 5, where the 
sun "rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course." His face is like that of 
fire. He brings forth the bright light of day and the dim light of night 
(v. 2). "Varuna is the lord of light by day and by night." 1 From these 
passages and others we might infer that Varuna is, as it were, the Light 
of light, the god whose special manifestation is light, be it the light of 
sun, or moon, or star. And from this point of view the Sun rising in the 
morning might be regarded at once as "the sent" of Varuna and as the 
revelation of the glory of the Sender. 

We now pass on to hymn eighty-nine, which perhaps throws some light 
on the nature of Vasistha's suffering. 

RV. vii. 89. To Varuna. 

1. I do not wish, King Varuna, 

To go down to the house of clay, 
O Lord, have mercy and forgive. 

2. When tottering I move about, 
O slinger, like a bag puffed up, 
O lord, have mercy and forgive. 

3. Somehow through lack of insight I 
Have gone astray, O shining one, 
O lord, have mercy and forgive. 

4. Thirst finds thy worshipper even when 
He in the midst of water stands, 

O lord, have mercy and forgive. 

5. Whatever wrong against the race of gods we do, 
Being but men, O Varuna, whatever law 

Of thine we may have brok'n in thoughtlessness, 
For that transgression do not punish us, O God. 

This hymn is a kind of Vedic litany with a regular refrain, "O Lord, 
have mercy, and forgive." The poet is sick and in fear of death. He 
totters about like a bag puffed up. Tantalus-like he is afflicted by thirst 
even in the midst of waters. Most commentators think that it was dropsy, 
from which the poet was suffering. Dropsy, a water-disease, was regarded 
as the peculiar infliction of Varuna, who was also a water-god, as we shall 
see. The poet does not want to go down to "the house of clay" (reference 
to burial?), and so he makes a reiterated plea for mercy and forgiveness, 
meaning thereby restoration to health and extension of life. "The life that 
now is" was a very dear thing even to the Vedic seer. The poet's suffering 
is apparently the source of the conviction that he has gone astray, or 
perhaps better the cause of the insight which makes his sin against 
Varuna clear to him. Here, too, we have certain excuses for sin. It is due 

1 Macdonell, op. cit. 3 p. 25. 


to "lack of insight" and thoughtlessness, and it is a very human thing for 
men to sin "being but men." 

You have doubtless noticed the change of metre in this hymn. It is 
the Gayatri measure, the first four stanzas consisting of three eight- 
syllable lines each, somewhat after the style of the iambic tetrametre. 
Here the verse-cow has to get on with three feet, since the stanza has only 
three lines. But the fifth and last stanza is in a different metre, the Jagati, 
and consists of four twelve-syllable lines, each of which approximates to 
the iambic hexametre or Alexandrine. The last stanza is clearly a later 
addition. It differs both in metre and in point of view from the preceding 
stanzas. Stanzas 1-4 are intensely personal and have a monotheistic ring, 
whereas the fifth stanza speaks of sin as committed against "the race of 
gods." So much for the three hymns which seem to tell the story of 
Vasistha's sin and suffering, namely vii. 86, 88 and 89. There still remains 
hymn 87, in order to complete the group in the seventh book. 

RV. vii. 87. To Varuna. 

1. Varuna hath cut for the sun a pathway, 

And caused the water-floods to hasten seaward; 
Dug for the shining days their mighty channels, 
Guiding them as a racer guides his horses. 

2. Thy breath, the wind, resoundeth through the mid-air, 
Like eager cattle in the pasture feeding; 

Whate'er broad earth contains and the high heavens, 
All that, Varuna, is thy dear dominion. 

3. The spies of Varuna, sent forth on his errands, 
Watch on all sides the two worlds well-established; 
Righteous are they, wise, knowing sacrifices, 
Inspirers, too, of prayer in hearts of wisdom. 

4. Said Varuna to me his priestly singer: 

"The names borne by the cow are three times seven"; 
The wise who know the secret of this saying, 
Must not proclaim it to the ages after. 

5. Three heavens are comprehended in his greatness, 
Three earths beneath, in order six divisions; 

And sovereign Varuna the wise created 

The golden swing, that it might shine in heaven. 

6. As heaven, god Varuna sank into the Sindhu, 
Like a white drop the mighty beast descended, 
Ruling in depths and measurer of the mid-air, 
The King of all that is, whose sway is boundless. 

7. Who showeth mercy even to the sinner, 

O that we might in Varuna's eyes be guiltless, 
The laws of Aditi fulfilling truly; , 
Ye gods, protect us evermore with blessings. 
Varuna comes before us in the first stanza as a great road-maker. He 


cut a path for the sun, for the rivers as they flow toward the sea, and for 
the days. The wind is his breath (v. 2). Like an earthly potentate he 
has his spies, who are constantly on tour through heaven and earth, 
watching to see if their master's will is obeyed (v. 3). What are these 
"spies"? Do they perform such functions of espionage and accusation as 
were apparently assigned to the Satan in the book of Job? Are they to be 
thought of as the sainted Fathers, or the stars, or the rays of light? They 
are described in the hymn before us as seers, righteous, skilled in sacrifice, 
and the inspirers of devotion in the wise. A physical basis for the spies of 
Varuna might perhaps be found in the rays of the morning sun, which with 
undeviating regularity arouse the pious to sacrifice and prayer. We may 
compare Milton's lines: 

''Ere the blabbing eastern scout, 
The nice Morn on the Indian steep, 
From the cabined loop-hole peep, 
And to the tell-tale Sun descry 
Our concealed solemnity." — Comus, 138-142. 
Here "the nice Morn," constituted by the rays of the not yet risen Sun, is 
represented as making a report to the Sun. 

The Sun in stanza five is called a "golden swing" (cp. hymn 88, 3), 
which Varuna in his wisdom made to shine in the sky. Varuna is not to be 
identified with the sun, since in stanzas one and five he is expressly dis- 
tinguished from the sun as the one who placed the sun's golden swing in 
heaven and hollowed out a path for it. According to stanza six, Varuna 
like Dyaus (heaven) sinks into the Sindhu. This verse presupposes some 
place on the Indus where sky and water meet, and where the light-bearers 
(sun, moon, and stars) as revelations of Varuna seem to sink into the sea- 
like bosom of the great river. Varuna as represented by the sun is com- 
pared, when he sinks into the sea, with a white drop (or spark) and with 
a mighty beast, (cp. the Bull in vii. 88, 1). 

There are in this hymn two references to Varuna's connection with 
water. He causes the water-floods to hasten seaward (v. 1), and he him- 
self in the form of sky or sun sinks into the Sindhu (v. 6). In the other 
three Vasistha-hymns to Varuna there are also two references, — in vii. 88, 
3-4, where Varuna takes Vasistha out to one of his own realms, the sea, and 
again in vii. 89, 4, according to which thirst attacks Varuna's worshipper 
even when he stands in the midst of waters. 

According to stanza five the three heavens and the three earths, i. e. 
the heavens and the earth in all their fulness and compass, are deposited 
in Varuna. This reminds us of the Biblical passages, "In Him all things 
consist" (Col. i. 17), and "Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot con- 
tain Thee" (I Kings viii. 27). Varuna cannot be identified with the 
heaven, for the three heavens are in him. A magnificent statement of the 
transcendence of Varuna. He is the Container, not the contained. 

In this hymn also Varuna is at once sovereign and gracious. As sov- 
ereign he is the King of all that is. All things in heaven and earth come 
under his dominion. As King he placed the "golden swing" of the sun in 
the sky. As the gracious one Varuna showeth mercy even to him who has 


committed sin. Immediately after this there is voiced one of the most 
ethical and spiritual aspirations to be found in the Rig-Veda (even though 
it be the work of an editor) : 

that we might in Varuna's eyes be guiltless, 
The laws of Aditi fulfilling truly. 

In these four Vasistha-hymns which we have studied Varuna is appar- 
ently the Lord of light. His face is as the face of fire. He is a shining one. 
He makes the sun to rise, leading him forth like a strong bull, and prepar- 
ing a pathway for him; or (the figure being changed) he makes the sun 
to swing from east to west like a golden swing in the sky. It is he who 
gives both the bright light of day and the dim light (= darkness) of 
night. Certain Biblical parallels may be cited: •"Thou hast prepared 
luminary and sun" (Ps. lxxiv. 16); "He (your Father in heaven) maketh 
his sun to rise on the evil and the good" (Matt. v. 45); "God is light" 
(I John i. 5). Equally, then, in First John, and in these four Vasistha 
hymns, it is the God who is light that takes account of sin. 

The next Vedic scripture to be examined by us will be a part of the 
twenty-fourth hymn of the first book. 

RV. I. 24, 6-15. To Varuna. 

6. Thy realm, Varuna, thy might, and spirit. 
Even these winged birds have not attained to, 
Nor yet the waters that go on forever, 

Nor those whose strength abates the wind's wild fury. 

7. In baseless space King Varuna the holy 
Sustains erect the summit of a great tree; 

Its rays whose root is high above stream downward, 
Within us may they hide themselves completely. 

S. King Varuna hath made a spacious pathway, 

Wherein the sun may travel on his journey; 

Created feet to walk with for the footless, 

And by his ban removed heart-piercing troubles. 
9. A hundred are thy remedies, a thousand, 

Wide be thy grace and deep, O sovereign ruler; 

Drive far away from us death and destruction, 

And make us free from ev'n the sin committed. 

10. The stars which show themselves by night in heaven 
Placed high above, — where are they gone by daylight? 
Varuna's regulations are unbroken, 

And through the night the moon wide-gleaming wanders. 

11. This I implore of thee with prayer adoring, 
Thy suppliant asks this with his oblation: 
O Varuna, stay here with us unangered, 
Far-famed one, of life do not deprive us. 

12. By night and day this very thing they tell me, 

My heart's own craving voices, too, the same wish: 


He whom the captured Sunahsepa cried to, 
The same King Varuna, may he release us. 

13. For Sunahsepa cried to the Aditya, 

When captured he was fastened to three pillars: 
May Varuna, the King, set free this captive, 
Wise and inerrant may he loose my fetters. 

14. O Varuna, we turn aside thine anger 
By prayers and sacrifices and oblations, 
Sage Asura, thou sovereign widely ruling, 
Release from us the sins we have committed. 

15. O Varuna, release from us the fetter, 
The upper and the lower and the middle; 
So may we in thy governance, Aditya, 
Belong to Aditi, when once made guiltless. 

In the first stanza translated Varuna's separateness is emphasized. 
His realm is "beyond the flight of birds," beyond the utmost surge of the 
waters, and beyond the farthest reach of the wind-breaking mountains. 
In this hymn not only the sun, but also the moon and the stars are men- 
tioned. The sun is conceived under two new metaphors, first as a tree 
upheld by Varuna in the baseless heart of space, whose root is above and 
whose branches as rays stretch downward; and, secondly, as the footless 
one, for whom Varuna not only made a broad path but also provided feet. 
The tenth stanza brings Varuna into connection with the night, the moon, 
and the stars. It reminds us that in the post-Vedic interpretation of the 
dual divinities Mitra-Varuna, Mitra was taken as day and Varuna as night. 
And the reference to the moon wide-gleaming and wandering through the 
night also reminds us that Oldenberg and Hillebrandt, the two great Ger- 
man authorities on Vedic mythology, both connect Varuna originally with 
the moon. In this hymn, however, nothing more is said than that the 
movements of the sun, moon, and stars are in accordance with the "regu- 
lations" of Varuna. The word for stars or constellations means literally 
"bears," bears of the sky, with which may be compared the sun as the 
"bull" or "mighty beast" of the sky. 

As regards the sovereignty of Varuna, it is highly exalted beyond all 
that is earthly. He is King and "mysterious lord" (Aswra=Persian 
Ahura), the epithet Asura being specially applicable to Varuna in the 

The grace of Varuna is magnified in this hymn. His good will or 
kindly thought (sumati) is wide and deep, and he has a hundred, nay a 
thousand remedies. Death is the "fetter" with which Varuna binds those 
who break his ordinauces. Compare "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 
vi. 23). But his "free gift" is life, since he has a multitude of remedies. 
And so he is besought to drive away death, that is in other words to 
release from sin. The point of view is the same as in the four Vasistha 
hymns already studied. That which is emphasized in sin is what it 
entails of suffering and death. It is the same thought as underlay the 
disciples' question: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he 


should be born blind?" (John ix. 2). This conception of the close relation 
between sin and suffering, the sinner being ever bound by the cords of 
suffering, while already clearly taught in the Rig-Veda, was destined to 
receive its full development in that which is the distinctive ethical 
philosophy of India, the doctrine of Karma. With this difference, however, 
that whereas in the Rig-Veda the suffering which is the fruit of sin is 
experienced in this life in the form of illness and death, in the later doc- 
trine as found in the Upanisads it is experienced not only in this life, but 
especially in the life to come in the form of the type of being into which 
the sinner will suffer re-incarnation. In this hymn and throughout the 
Rig- Veda the grace of God receives a fair emphasis. In the later doctrine 
the grace of God is thrust more or less into the background by the auto- 
matic working of Karma as the great principle of retribution. 

We have in this hymn a very explicit statement of the way in which 
the anger of Varuna may be deprecated or appeased. It is "by prayers and 
sacrifices and oblations," in other words through the machinery of the 
ritual. We need not deny all ethical and spiritual efficacy to the ritualistic 
performances of the Vedic Aryans any more than to the Hebrews, since 
among both peoples the worshipper along with the ritually appointed offer- 
ing may also have brought the sacrifice of "a broken and contrite heart." 
Nevertheless, we can detect even in the Rig-Veda the beginnings of a ten- 
dency to exalt overmuch both the ritual and those in charge of the ritual. 
The result of which was that the various spiritual benefits supposed to be 
mediated through the ritual such as forgiveness, etc., gradually became a 
monopoly in the hands of the priests. We shall now pass on to the next 

RV. I. 25. To Varuna. 

I. 1. However much, god Varuna, 

We violate thine ordinance, 
Being but mortals, day by day; 

2. Yet give us not up to the stroke 
Death-dealing of the angry one, 
The wrath of the incensed one. 

3. As one unbinds a tethered steed, 
So loosen we with songs of praise 
Thy heart, O Varuna, for grace. 

4. Forth do my aspirations fly 

[To thee, O god,] in search of good, 
Ev'n as the birds unto their nests. 

5. O when shall we bring near to us, 
For grace, the wide-eyed Varuna, 
Hero, whom sovereignty adorns? 

II. 7. Who knows the path of birds that through 

The atmosphere do wing their flight, 
And ocean-dwelling knows the ships; 

8. Who knows as one whose law is firm 

The twelve moons rich in progeny, 
Who knows the moon of later birth; 

9. Who knows the pathway of the wind, 
The wide, the high, the mighty wind, 
And those that sit above [the wind]. 

10. Enthroned within his palace sits 
God Varuna whose law is firm, 
The very wise for sovereignty. 

11. From there all-seeing Varuna 

The secret things of earth beholds, 
Things done and things yet to be done. 

III. 12. May he the all-wise Aditya 

Make all our days fair-pathed for us, 
May he prolong our lives for us. 

13. Wearing a golden mantle, clothed 
In shining garb, is Varuna; 

His spies are seated round about. 

14. He whom deceivers do not dare 
Try to deceive nor injurers 

To harm, nor th' hostile to defy. 

15. And who wins fame among mankind, 
Fame all complete, yea winneth fame 
Amongst ourselves by giving food. 

16. Forth do my thoughts go unto him, 
Like cows unto the pasture-fields, 
Seeking to find the wide-eyed god. 

IV. 17. Let us two speak together now, 
Since the dear honey-sacrifice 
Priest-Tike thou eatest, brought by me. 

18. O may I see upon the earth 
Varuna's car all-visible; 

May he accept this song of mine. 

19. Hear this my cry, Varuna, 
Be gracious unto me today, 
Longing for help I yearn for thee. 

20. Wise one, thou rulest over all, 

O'er heaven and earth thou bearest sway, 
So hear me as I make my plea. 

21. Unbind for us the highest bond, 
The middle one untie for us, 
The lowest, too, that we may live. 

We follow Delbriick in dividing this hymn into four strophes contain- 
ing five stanzas each, stanza six being rejected as an interpolation. This 
is one of the most remarkable of the Varuna hymns. Varuna is repre- 


sented as seated upon his heavenly throne in the place and attitude of 
sovereignty. From his palace where he is arrayed in the garments of 
royalty, and where he is surrounded by his court officials, the "spies," 1 
he looks forth upon the earth. His omniscience is emphasized. He be- 
holds the secret things of earth and knows the things that will be done as 
well as the things that have been done. He knows the path of birds (cp. 
Bryant's Ode to a Waterfowl) , the [course of] ships by sea, the [way of] 
the twelve moons, and the pathway of the wind. There seems to be here 
a pregnant use of the word "know" in the sense of governance, direction, 
approbation, somewhat as in Hebrew. Compare "Jehovah knoweth the 
way of the righteous" (Ps. i. 6). 

Varuna has the epithet dhritavrata "he whose law is fixed" (vv. 8, 10). 
No one can resist his sovereign will or violate his law with impunity. He 
rules over all, bearing sway in heaven and on earth. "Sin is the trans- 
gression of the law" of Varuna (v. 1), and he is angry when his ordinances 
are violated. As a punishment Varuna fastens upon the sinner the fetter 
of death (w. 2, 12, 21). Varuna is also a god of grace. Though men 
violate his ordinances daily through human infirmity, yet when they con- 
fess their sin (v. 1) and offer the spiritual sacrifices of prayer, devout 
thought and aspiration, and praise, at the same time bringing the ritually 
appointed offering (v. 17), then Varuna hears (vv. 19, 20) and is gracious 
(vv. 3, 5). He unbinds the threefold cord of death (v. 21), prolongs life 
(v. 12), and makes the days fair-pathed for men. He restores his fellow- 
ship, speaks again with his worshipper, and reveals himself in his chariot 
on the earth. Thus Varuna comes before us in this hymn clothed with the 
most exalted attributes. He is the Lord of life and death (w. 2, 12, 21), 
the Lord of the past and the future (v. 11), and the King of heaven and 
earth (v. 20). He punishes sin, and forgives the penitent sinner. Verily 
this hymn is "holy ground." 

The epithel urucaksas "wide-eyed" (or "far-seeing") refers to Varuna 
as the god whose eye is the sun. Here again Varuna seems to be the lord 
of light, whose best manifestation is the light of the sun. 

The anthropomorphism of Varuna's personality is well developed in 
this hymn. He eats (v. 17), sits (v. 10), wears a mantle and a shining 
robe (v. 13), sees (vv. 5, 11), hears (vv. 19, 20), knows (vv. 7-9), rides in 
a chariot (v. 18), and has anger and wrath (v. 2) as well as mercy (w. 
3, 5). 

Two stanzas of this hymn are notable both for the beauty of the 
similes which they contain and for their expression of aspiration: 
4. Forth do my aspirations (?) fly 
[To thee, O god] in search of good, 
Ev'n as the Mrds unto their nests; and 
16. Forth do my thoughts go unto him, 
Like cows unto the pasture- fields, 
Seeking to find the wide-eyed god. 

The next hymn to be translated is the eighty-fifth hymn of the fifth 

1 Compare Sanday's Sermon on Angels in The Life of Christ in Recent Re- 
search, pp. 315-324. 


book, the only hymn in that book addressed to Varuna alone. 
RV. V. 85. To Varuna. 

I. 1. To sovereign Varuna let me sing a praise-song, 
In lofty tones and deep, to him well-pleasing, 
Far-famed one, who hath spread the earth out sunward, 
Ev'n as a priest spreads out the skin of slain beast. 

2. Air hath Varuna placed within the tree-tops, 

Milk in the cows and strength in the swift horses, 
Wisdom in hearts and fire within the waters, 
In heaven the sun and soma on the mountain. 

II. 3. Now hath Varuna turned the cask face downwards, 

And let it flow through heav'n and earth and mid-air; 
Therewith the King of all the world doth moisten 
The ground, ev'n as the rain the fields of barley. 

4. What time Varuna longeth for the cloud-milk, 
He moisteneth the ground, yea earth and heaven; 
The mountains clothe themselves then in the rain-cloud, 
And the storm-heroes fierce abate their fury. 

III. 5. Let me declare this mighty deed of magic 

Of Varuna the glorious and the godlike, 
Who standing in the air's mid-region meted 
The earth out with the sun as with a measure. 

6. This, too, is the all-wise god's deed of magic 
A mighty deed, which none hath ever hindered, 
That all the streams which pour themselves out swiftly, 
Do never with their floods fill up the one sea. 

IV. 7. Whatever sin against friend or companion, 

We have committed or against a brother, 
Against one's kinsman or against a stranger, — 
O Varuna, do thou forgive us all that. 

8. If we have cheated at the dice when playing, 
If witting or unwitting we have done wrong, 
Cast all those sins away like loosened fetters, 
And thy dear worshippers may we again be. 

This hymn divides itself into four strophes of two stanzas each. Ac- 
cording to the first strophe all the best things are the handiwork of 
Varuna, e. g. air in the forests, milk in the cows, strength in horses, intel- 
lect in hearts, fire in waters, sun in heaven, and soma in mountains. Va- 
runa spread the earth out in the sunlight just as a sacrificial priest spreads 
out the skin of a beast — an interesting reference to animal sacrifice. In 
the second strophe Varuna comes before us in a new character, that of a 
rain-god. He turns the cloud-cask upside down and causes its water to 
flow. The rain is the milk of the clouds. With the rain Varuna wets the 
ground. In this weather-drama Varuna is apparently assisted by the 
Maruts or storm-winds. The third strophe also brings to us a new aspect 


of Varuna, that of his occult or magic power (may a). It is the same word 
as in the later philosophy of India stands over against Brahma as its 
antithesis. Two illustrations of the occult power of Varuna who has the 
attributes of an Asura or "mysterious being" are cited. Standing in the 
mid-air he measures the earth with the sun as with a measure. And, 
secondly, the downflowing streams sent by Varuna never fill the one sea. 
The fourth strophe is important ethically. It contains an acknowledge- 
ment that sin may be committed not only against a brother tribesman, but 
also against a stranger, the man of another tribe. This is ethically very 
advanced. There is also the recognition of the fact that only as forgiven 
by Varuna can those who have violated his ordinances, again become his 
acceptable worshippers. 

In this hymn Varuna's magic power or power of effecting magic 
transportations is celebrated. He "maketh his sun to rise" (vv. 1, 2, 5) 
and he "sendeth rain" (vv. 3-4). The sky as the sphere of Varunc is cov- 
ered now with the light of day, now with thick clouds and falling rain, and 
anon with the darkness or dim light of night. These transitions from 
night to day and from rain-storm to the "clear shining after rain" are the 
result of the occult power of Varuna, the sleight-of-hand of the great 
magician, to use a later phrase. 

The next hymn is the only hymn in book second addressed exclusively 
to Varuna. 

1. The self-dependent Aditya's is all this, 

May he the wise transcend it by his greatness; 

Of mighty Varuna I ask approval, 

The god exceeding kind to him who worships. 

2. In thine own governance may we be happy, 
We who have praised thee, Varuna, devoutly, 
Lauding thee daily like the fires at morning, 
What time the cow-like Dawns appear in splendour. 

3. Varuna, may we dwell in thy protection, 
Far-famed guide and lord of many heroes; 
Ye sons of Aditi, ye undeceived ones, 

Be kind to us, admit us to your friendship. 

4. Th' all-ruling Aditya poured forth the waters, 
The rivers run by Varuna's commandment; 
Unwearied do they flow and never tarry, 

Like birds they speed them quickly on their courses. 

5. As from a bond release me from transgression, 
May we swell, Varuna, thy spring of order; 
May no thread break as I weave my devotion, 
Nor mass of work before the time be shattered. 

6. O Varuna, away from me put terror, 
Accept me graciously, thou righteous ruler; 
Loose me from evil as a calf from halter, 
Mine eyelid's master am I not without thee. 


7. Smite us not, Asura, with those dread weapons, 
Which at thy bidding wound the evil-doer; 
From light may we not go forth into exile, 
Disperse, that we may live, all those who hate us. 

8. As formerly, so now and henceforth, strong one, 
Let us address to thee adoring worship; 

For on thee, undeceivable one, are founded 
As on a mountain statutes everlasting. 

9. Remove far hence the sins by me committed, 
Let me not eat the fruit of other's action; 
Full many are the dawns that yet shall redden, 
O Varuna, place us alive among them. 

10. If any relative or friend, O monarch, 

Has spoken dread to me in slumber fearful, 
Or if a thief or wolf desires to harm us, 
Therefrom, O Varuna, do thou protect us. 

11. O Varuna may I not lack the friendship 
Of a rich lord munificent and kindly, 
May I not be devoid of wealth well-ordered. 
Loud may we speak at worship, girt with heroes. 

The penitential element in this hymn is very similar to what we have 
had before. The poet prays to Varuna to loose him from his guilt (v. 5) 
and to remove far away his sins (v. 9). The word for sins in v. 9 means 
literally "debts" (rina). It reminds us of the familiar petition, "Forgive 
us our debts." The thought of being loosed from sin reminds us of 
Rev. i. 5, "Unto Him that loveth us and loosed us from our sins by His 
blood; and the parallel thought of sin being removed far away recalls the 
statement in Ps. ciii. 12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath 
He removed our transgressions from us." As in the preceding hymns, so 
here forgiveness is largely identified with the remission of penalty. The 
prayer is: 

Smite us not, Asura, with those dread weapons, 

"Which at thy bidding wound the evil-doer. 
The penalty of sin is conceived as a going away into exile "where they 
never see the sun," in other words, death. And so the prayer for forgive- 
ness is also a prayer for long life : 

Full many are the dawns that yet shall redden, 

O Varuna, place us alive among them. 
The penalty of sin as elsewhere is also conceived as a "bond" or "halter." 
Compare the eighteenth Psalm, where there is mention also of the "cords" 
and the "snares" of death (vv. 4, 5). There is prayer also to be delivered 
from evil (v. 6), from thief and wolf (v. 10), from terror (v. 6) and from 
fear in sleep (v. 10). The poet prays that he may not suffer on account of 
sin either committed by himself or by another: 

Remove far hence the sins by me committed, 

Let me not eat the fruit of other's action. 

This reminds us of the lines in VII. 86, 5: 

Release from us the wrongs our sires committed, 

As well as those committed by our selves. 
But the most distinctive teaching of this hymn is that Varuna is the source 
and foundation of law. 

Upon thee, undeceivable one, are founded 

As on a mountain statutes everlasting. 

The word translated "statutes" (vratani) means laws, ordinances, regula- 
tions apparently as "willed" by a ruler (if vrata be an old participle of 
vri). Still more remarkable is the word rita, which occurs twice in this 
hymn in the sense of order, law, commandment. The word rita means 
literally course, from ri to go, therefore right course or established order. 
Varuna's relation to the streams of water is expressed by the line: 

"The rivers run by Varuna's commandment" (ritam), 
which might almost be translated by 

The course (ritam) of Varuna the streams do follow. 
In the fifth stanza occurs the remarkable expression kha ritasya "spring 
of order," which, as Bloomfield * points out, is "sound for sound the same" 
as the Avestan ashahe khao (Yasna 10.4). The word rita "order" has a 
threefold application in the Rig-Veda; first, as cosmic order, the course of 
nature, the way things go; secondly, as ritualistic order, the established 
method of worship (rite) ; and thirdly, as moral order, the established 
and right way of doing things. It is certainly one of the greatest concep- 
tions elaborated by the Indo-Iranian peoples. 

The prayer, "May we swell, Varuna, thy spring of order" seems to 
imply co-operation with Varuna through the observance of both religious 
rite and moral right. Thus the waters of "the spring of righteousness" 
are made to abound. The "sense of dependence" on Varuna is also well 
expressed: "Mine eyelids master am I not without thee." Two great 
epithets emphasize Varuna's sovereignty. He is svaraj "self-dependent," 
"absolute ruler," and samraj "imperial ruler." 

In this as in the other hymns which we have studied the Chaucerian 
simplicity of the similes is worthy of natice; e. g. "like fires" (v. 2), "like 
birds" (v. 4), "as a bond" (v. 5), "as a calf from halter" (v. 6), and hymn- 
composition is referred to (v. 5) under the metaphor of weaving. 

The first stanza is rather obscure, and the last is without doubt edi- 
torial, since it stands at the end of a considerable number of hymns and 
also has a strongly marked danastuti or "gift-praise" character. It is 
possible that an ancient hymn has been subjected to editorial additions 
and changes before being admitted to the Collection. If so, it illustrates 
what Hopkins calls "the rehandling of older material." 2 We are also 
reminded of the textual history of the O. T. Psalter, concerning which a 
competent authority declares that "any system of interpretation which is 
to be applied to the Psalms must be ready to recognize even in a single 
Psalm the juxtaposition of divergent elements" (W. E. Barnes, The Inter- 
pretation of the Psalms in Cambridge Biblical Essays, 1909, p. 155). 

1 Religion of the Veda, p. 126. 

2 Op. cit. 3 p. 24. 


The eighth book has two hymns to Varuna which will now be con- 

RV. VIII. 41. To Varuna. 

1. To Varuna the powerful 

And to the all-wise Marut-host 
Let me now sing a hymn of praise; 
Varuna guards the thoughts of men, 
As herds of cows are shepherded; 
None other is of any worth. 

2. Him laud I with the fathers' song 
In meditations framed by them, 

And with Nabhaka's hymns of praise, — 
Him dwelling at the rivers' source, 
Surrounded by his sisters seven; 
None other is of any worth. 

3. Varuna hath embraced the nights, 
Fixed with his magic power the dawns, 
He everywhere is visible; 

His dear ones following his law 

Have prospered the three shining dawns; 

None other is of any worth. 

4. He firmly fixed the mountain peaks, 
He who on earth is visible, 

And measured out the ancient place, 
The home of Varuna's sisters seven; 
For like a herdsman strong is he, 
None other is of any worth. 

5. Upholder of the worlds he knows 
Full well the names mysterious 
And secret of the ruddy dawns; 

Wise one he makes much wisdom bloom, 
Even as the sky brings out each hue; 
None other is of any worth. 

6. In him all wisdom has its home, 
As in a wheel the nave is set, 
Like cows together in the stall, 
Like steeds united in a team; 

In haste god Trita reverence; 
None other is of any worth. 

7. He as a mantle wraps the world 
And all the various tribes thereof, 
Surrounding the abodes of all; 
Before the house of Varuna 

The gods all follow his command; 
None other is of any worth. 


8. As ocean hidden he ascends 

As 't were the heavens in haste, what time 

He fixes worship in the clans; 

With shining fort all magic wiles 

He scattered, climbed the vault of heaven; 

None other is of any worth. 

9. His are the white, far-seeing pair, 
That up above the three earths live, 
And the three upper realms do fill; 
Firm is the seat of Varuna, 

Over the seven he beareth sway; 
None other is of any worth. 

10. The white ones and the brilliant-robed 
The black ones, too, he made by law, 
The ancient home he measured out; 
With pillars fixed apart the worlds, 
As the Unborn he propped the sky; 
None other is of any worth. 

A somewhat mystical and difficult hymn. This much is clear, how- 
ever, that it celebrates Varuna's cosmic power, especially his relation to 
the nights, dawns, days, rivers, and mountains. Varuna (v. 10) made the 
black ones (nights) as well as the white ones (days) and the ones clad 
in gleaming garments (sunrise and sunset). He embraces the nights 
(apparently by means of sunset and sunrise). Through his magic power 
(may a) he established the dawns. He dwells at the source of the rivers 
in the midst of his seven sisters (v. 2). Compare RV. I. 65, 4 "Kinsman 
of rivers, of sisters brother" (said of Agni). He is called a "hidden 
ocean" (v. 8). He established the heights of the mountains (v. 4). His 
are the two white far-seeing ones (sun and moon probably), which dwell 
on high above the three earths. As a mantle he wraps the world and all 
that it contains (v. 7). Is this the mantle of bright light by day and of 
dim light by night? With shining foot Varuna scattered magic wiles 
(mayah) and climbed the vault of heaven (v. 8). This looks very much 
like Vishnu's three steps, earth, atmosphere and zenith. Thus in this 
hymn Varuna clearly has to do with day, night and water; in other 
words, he is at once day-god, night-god and water-god. Varuna is so 
universally revealed by day and by night, in storm and in calm, that he 
is said to be visible everywhere on the earth (vv. 3, 4). He measured out 
the ancient (or eastern) place (vv. 4, 10), whatever that may mean. He 
fixed asunder earth and heaven and propped the sky. So much for 
Varuna's cosmic power and activities. 

But Varuna as the upholder of the worlds is not only powerful, but 
also wise. As such, he makes wisdom to thrive. All wisdom finds its 
centre and meeting place in him, as the wheel in the nave, as cows in the 
cow-pen, and as horses in the team. He knows the hidden and secret 
names of the dawns. This reminds us of a passage in another mystical 


hymn VII. 87, 4 "The names borne by the cow are three times seven." 

Varuna is the supreme ruler. He rules over the seven (v. 9). Not 
only the nights and dawns (vv. 3, 10), but also the gods follow his law 
(v. 7). The statement, "Before the house of Varuna the gods all follow 
his command," reminds us of I. 25, 13 "His spies are seated round about." 

This hymn contains references not only to good magic but also to bad 
magic. Varuna by his magic power establishes the dawns (v. 3) and by 
his shining foot scatters (evil) magic arts (v. 8). Perhaps a reference to 
the magic arts of the demons of darkness overcome by Varuna. 

The sacred numbers three and seven play a large part in this hymn 
and indeed throughout the Rig-Veda even as in the Bible. 

The metre of this hymn is the mahapankti, a kind of double gayatri, 
consisting of six eight-syllable lines. Each stanza ends in a common 
refrain, which when translated freely reads, "None other is of any worth," 
literally "Let any others burst." The hymn is assigned by tradition to 
Nabhaka mentioned in stanza second. The word "burst" (nabhantam) 
looks like a punning reference to the name Nabhaka. As a bit of Vedic 
slang the line might be translated by Let any other ones "go hang." The 
prayer for the pardon of sin does not occur in this hymn. 

The second of the two Varuna hymns found in book eighth is also 
cosmic in character like the first. 

RV. VIII. 42, 1-3. 

1. The all-possessing Asura established 

The heaven, and measured earth's extent and compass; 
Entered all worlds as universal ruler, 
All these indeed are Varuna's regulations. 

2. Then honour Varuna the exalted, praising 
The all-wise guardian of the world immortal. 
May he extend to us threefold protection, 

earth and heaven, cherish us in your bosom. 

3. O god, this song of one who tries his utmost 
Sharpen, and, Varuna, skill bestow and insight; 
Let us ascend the ship that gives good passage, 
Whereby we may cross over all misfortune. 

The last three stanzas of this hymn are in a different metre and are 
addressed to the Asvins. They are not translated. This hymn illustrates 
then "the juxtaposition of divergent elements" 1 due to "processes of 
secondary grouping and adaptation." 2 The author of this hymn prays to 
Varuna to sharpen his skill (daksa) and insight (kratu) as a poet. He 
describes himself as one who does his best in sacred song, and he wishes 
to do better still. Deliverance is conceived as a being carried in a boat 
across a river, an inheritance from the Panjab. 

We have now completed the study of ten Vedic hymns devoted to 
Varuna. Two of the ten, namely I. 24 and VIII. 42, are devoted in part 

1 W. E. Barnes, op. cit., p. 155. 

2 Bloomfield, Hymns of the Atharvaveda, SBE. xlii, p. lxxii. 


to other gods as well as to Varuna, and several other hymns which have 
not been translated also contain Varuna sections. Eight hymns are de- 
voted exclusively to Varuna, namely I. 25, II. 28, V. 85, VII. 86, 87, 88, 89 
and VIII. 41, and also eight hymns (the same as the above-mentioned list 
after putting I. 24, 6-15 in the place of VIII. 41) are penitential in char- 
acter. These penitential hymns are strikingly similar in spirit to the 
Hebrew and Babylonian penitential psalms. Concerning the Babylonian 
penitential psalms Prof. Morris Jastrow 1 writes: "The two parts which 
presented themselves with overpowering force to the penitent were the 

anger of the deity and the necessity of appeasing that anger The 

man afflicted was a sinner, and the corollary to this position was that mis- 
fortunes come in consequence of sin. Through the evils alone which over- 
took one, it became clear to an individual that he had sinned against the 
deity. Within this circle of ideas the penitential psalms of Babylonia 

move An ethical spirit was developed .... that surprises us 

by its loftiness and comparative purity These psalms indeed 

show the religious and ethical thought of Babylonia at its best." All of 
which, mutatis mutandis, may be said with equal truth of the Vedic 
penitential hymns. 

The close similarity in thought and spirit which exists between the 
Babylonian and the Vedic penitential psalms has led Professor Oldenberg 
to postulate a Babylonian origin for Varuna. In about twenty-seven 
hymns of the Rig-Veda the dual divinities Mitra-Varuna are celebrated. 
But Mitra is the Persian Mithra "sun." According to Oldenberg's hypoth- 
esis, then, Mitra and Varuna were originally Sun and Moon. The Adityas 
or sons of Aditi, of which Varuna is chief, are sometimes given as seven 
in number. Oldenberg thinks that the seven Adityas were the sun and 
moon and five planets and that they were first studied and worshipped in 
the Euphrates Valley. To show that an original character as moon is 
not inconsistent with the lofty attributes ascribed to Varuna in the Rig- 
Veda, Oldenberg 2 refers to a Babylonian hymn addressed to Nannar-Sin, 
the moon-god of Ur of the Chaldees, who is invoked in such language as 
this: "O lord, chief of the gods, who on earth and in heaven alone is ex- 
alted, .... merciful one, begetter of everything, who among living 

things occupies a lofty seat Thy strong command produces right 

and proclaims justice to mankind. Thy strong command, through the 

distant heavens and the wide earth, extends to whatever there is 

Lord, in heaven is [thy] sovereignty, on earth is thy sovereignty 

O King of Kings, .... whose divinity is not surpassed by any 
other!" 3 In Ur of the Chaldees the moon-god was the supreme object of 
worship, and the sun was regarded as the offspring of the moon. It is 
interesting to recall that according to Hebrew tradition Abraham, the 
tribal father of the Hebrews, went forth from Ur of the Chaldees. Olden- 
berg's hypothesis has not met with much favour at the hands of scholars. 
If Oldenberg's contention were true, that Varuna was originally a moon- 

1 Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Chap, xviii. 

2 Varuna und die Adityas, ZDMG., No. 50, S. 67. 

3 Jastrow, oi). cit., p. 303 ff. 


god and had a Babylonian origin, then we might perhaps regard both 
Varuna and Jehovah as offshoots of one original Babylonian source. But 
whatever the facts may be, this much is sure that the Vedic Varuna is 
virtually the ethical equivalent of the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda, of the 
Babylonian Nannar-Sin, and of the Hebrew Yahweh. 

Since Oldenberg's hypothesis was first made public, the compound 
Mitra-Varuna has apparently been discovered in the cuneiform inscrip- 
tions. Hommel, 1 who by the way supports Oldenberg in his theory of 
Varuna, cites an inscription which he translates "In the home of Mitra 
and Marun (i. e. in the home of the sun and moon) they (the seven) are 
lull of corn." And Winckler has lately discovered an inscription at 
Boghaz Eeui, the old Hittite capital in Asia Minor, containing (as read by 
him) the names mi-it-ra-as-si-il u-ru-iv-na-as-si-el, i. e. Mitra-Varuna (assel 
being a combining suffix). See Eduard Meyer's Geschichte des Alter- 
turns, 1909, S. 802. 

The original nature of Varuna as (possibly) the moon is not de- 
pendent upon the truth or falsity of Oldenberg's hypothesis of a Babyl- 
onian origin. Varuna is confessedly a "prehistoric" god, that is his 
development belongs very largely to the Indo-Iranian period, anterior to 
the composition of the Vedic hymns. He is also a somewhat "opaque" 
god, as Prof. Bloomfield expresses it, his original physical basis (if he 
ever had one) being largely obscured. This obscuring of the original 
character of Varuna is doubtless due to the lapse of time and to changes 
which had taken place in the environment of the Vedic Aryans. In the 
ten hymns which we have studied Varuna appears predominantly as the 
lord of light, and in this character is much more closely associated with 
the sun than with the moon. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that 
Varuna's character as a Light-god might be derived from the moon as 
well as from the sun, especially when we remember that the actual process 
of derivation took place not in the Panjab, but somewhere to the north 
and west, in other words, under different skies. Varuna presides over 
diverse and even contradictory realms. He is at once day-god, and night- 
god, and rain-god. Light and darkness and rain are the principal physical 
qualities with which he is associated. The problem is, what will best 
furnish a starting point for the development of Varuna's three-fold nature 
as god of light, darkness, and rain? Hillebrandt, the chief German 
co-worker and rival of Oldenberg in the field of Vedic mythology, thinks 
that the moon alone answers all these conditions. 2 Varuna's character 
as lord of light can be derived from the moon as a luminous body; his 
character as a night-god, from the fact that the moon shines at night; 
and his character as a rain-god, from the close connection of the moon 
with dampness and dew, as the anthropologists all point out. That in 
the Vedic hymns Varuna is more closely connected with the sun than with 
the moon may be taken as due to a shifting of the environment from 
north to south. In the later history of Varuna his Vedic character as 
""light" drops out, and he remains for the Bralimana ritual a night-god as 

1 PSBA. No. 21, pp. 137-139. 

2 Vedische Mythologie, 1902, Bd. Ill, S. 45. 


contrasted with Mitra the day-god, and in still later times a mere water- 
god, a kind of Indian Neptune. All this illustrates the fact that even in 
the Rig-Veda Varuna is a waning god. As Hillebrandt says: "In the Rig- 
Veda he enjoys but the last moment of his full fame." * 

But there is another possible explanation of the many-sided nature 
of Varuna. The sky is the special sphere of Varuna in his character as 
day-god, night-god, and rain-god. We may distinguish between the "form" 
and "matter" of the sky, to use philosophical terminology. As regards 
form, the visible sky is a great vault bounded by the horizon. As regards 
matter, the sky which is unchanging in its form or mathematical shape, is 
a theatre for the display of the great optical and meteorological trans- 
formations of night and day, rain and sunshine. We have already had 
references to the maya or "occult power" of Varuna in hymns V. 85 and 
VIII. 41. This same power of effecting magic transformations in the 
atmosphere is ascribed in another hymn of the fifth book, namely V. 63, to 
the joint deities Mitra-Varuna. A translation of this hymn is herewith 
given, as it bears strongly upon the point under consideration. 

RV. V. 63. To Mitra-Varuna. 

1. In highest heaven ye twain united mount your car, 
Joint guardians of law and order fixed and firm; 
What man, O Mitra-Varuna, is blessed of you, 

On him the honied rain down from the sky doth stream. 

2. As joint imperial rulers govern ye the world, 
Varuna-Mitra sun-like at the sacrifice; 

The rain, gift of enduring life for us, we ask; 
The thunderers traverse the heaven and the earth. 

2. Joint Kings, strong bulls, and lords of heaven and earth are ye, 
O Mitra-Varuna, present and active everywhere; 
With gleaming storm-clouds girt ye twain attend the roar, 
And through the Asura's magic power cause heaven to rain. 

4. Your magic power, O Mitra-Varuna, is in the heaven; 
The sun, the gleaming weapon, flasheth as the light, 
Him in the sky with cloud and rain ye do conceal; 
The honied drops, Parjanya, now begin to flow. 

5. The wind-gods yoke their chariot swift for pomp and strife, 
Even as a hero, Mitra-Varuna, in war; 

The thunderers traverse the gleaming atmosphere, 
Joint ruling ones, sprinkle us with the milk of heaven. 

6. A voice, in truth, refreshing, gleaming, shattering, 
Parjanya utters now, O Mitra-Varuna; 

The wind-gods clothe themselves with clouds through magic power; 
Cause ye the sky to rain, the red, the spotless one. 

7. Through law and through the Asura's magic power ye guard 
The ordinances, Mitra-Varuna, wise gods; 

1 What to Learn from Vedic Mythology, p. 13. 


Through order fixed ye twain do govern all the world; 
The sun in heaven ye stationed as a gleaming car. 

This is clearly a rain-song containing a prayer for rain and filled with 
allusions to the Maruts or "storm-winds," Parjanya, the deified "rain- 
cloud," and to rain, thunder, clouds, water-drops, and sky-milk. Four 
times the word maya or "occult power" is mentioned in this description 
of a rain-storm, as if to suggest that the whole atmospheric drama of rain 
and sunshine is due to the "magic power" (maya) of some "mysterious 
lord" (Asura). 

The one visible sky, then, is the scene of many magic transformations, 
of which Varuna as at once day-god, night-god, and rain-god, may be 
taken as the cause. The changeless form of the sky then represents Va- 
runa's changelessness and all-embracing transcendence, while its chang- 
ing matter as seen in the manifold transformations which there take 
place may be taken as representing the magic play of Varuna's creative 
activity. This hypothesis is supported by the time-honoured etymological 
equation, viz. Vedic Varuna = Greek ouranos, "heaven." It is true, 
there is a slight phonetic difficulty in this identification, but not such as 
to prevent such scholars as Brugmann, Macdonell, and Bloomfield, from 
accepting it. According to this etymology Varuna-Ouranos is derived from 
the root var to cover and means the sky as the "coverer" or "encom- 
passer." All scholars are agreed that Vedic Dyaus = Greek Zeus. It is 
also probable, as we have seen, that Vedic Varuna = Greek ouranos. There 
was this difference in the development of meaning, that whereas in Greece 
Zeus came to mean "heaven-god" and "ouranos" retained its original mean- 
ing "heaven," in India dyaus retained (largely) its original meaning 
"heaven" and Varuna came to mean "heaven-god." And Varuna as the 
god of the sky would be the god equally of the day-sky, the night-sky and 
the rain-sky. This conclusion is not based upon the etymology of the 
word "Varuna," but upon the texts we have studied. The commonly ac- 
cepted etymology of Varuna is cited only as an additional witness in a 
cumulative argument. The argument would not be affected essentially by 
its omission. 

In conclusion, we may refer to a fundamental problem connected with 
the investigation of Vedic mythology, namely what are the factors to which 
it is due? Hillebrandt has brought out more fully than any other scholar 
the signficance of the fact that the Vedic commonwealth consisted of dif- 
ferent clans. How can one doubt that each clan made a contribution to the 
Vedic pantheon? As Hillebrandt well says: Vedic mythology is not a sys- 
tem but a conglomerate, a kind of mythological "confusion of tongues," 
which arose through the coming together and fusion of the traditions of 
different clans. 1 The same scholar also says that in the future we shall 
have to pay more attention to the multiplicity of ethnological elements 
than to the diversity which exists among the Vedic gods,- another way of 
saying that the multiplicity of Vedic gods is due to the multiplicity of 
Vedic clans. This is the ethnological factor. Furthermore the reading of 

1 Vedische Mythologie, Bd. Ill, S. xii. 

2 Op. cit., S. 52. 


such a book as Jastrow's Religion of Babylonia and Assyria brings to 
one's attention the fact that the equilibrium of the Babylonian pantheon 
was constantly being disturbed by political changes. If two districts 
came together on equal terms, their patron gods also would be associated 
on equal terms, perhaps as husband and wife; if on unequal terms, then 
the same thing would hold good of their gods, who would now be related 
to each other as father and son or even as master and servant (op. cit. 
p. 49). Something similar must have taken place among the Vedic clans, 
although from the paucity of historic evidence it will always be difficult 
to trace the process. We know this much at least that the Rig- Veda Col- 
lection is the religious precipitate of the thought of the confederated 
Vedic clans. This is the political factor. It may be illustrated in this 
way. Suppose the various Semitic tribes of Palestine and the adjacent 
regions, Hebrews, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Phoenicians, Aramae- 
ans, etc., had under the pressure of some strong non-Semitic foe formed 
among themselves a long-standing political alliance. According to ancient 
practice such a political alliance would ordinarily have involved a 
religious alliance as well, and the special god of each tribe would have be- 
come more or less an object of worship for all the allied tribes. Suppose, 
too, that the poets of each tribe sang the praises of their own particular 
god in sacred hymns, and that gradually, as the product of reflection, 
gods were united in pairs on the basis of resemblance in nature or as 
symbolical of the political union of clans, and finally that all the gods 
even were united as objects of adoration in the same hymn. And, lastly, 
suppose that after centuries of life thus politically and religiously feder- 
ated the sacred poetry of all the confederated tribes was brought together 
into one great collection, in which hymns to Yahweh would stand side by 
side with hymns to Baal, Chemosh, Molech, Ashtoreth, etc., and in which 
would also be found hymns to such dual gods as Yahweh- Chemosh and 
Baal-Molech, and hymns also dedicated to the Semitic "all-gods." Some- 
thing like this may actually have taken place in the history of the Vedic 
Aryans. And there were other factors, geographical, climatic, and cultural, 
which must have helped to mould the religious views of the Vedic clans 
in the course of their long wandering from their original home (wherever 
it was) to the "promised land" in India. 

In the light of these considerations it is conceivable that the union 
of Varuna with Mitra and with Indra, as expressed in the dual compounds 
Mitra-Varuna and Indra-Varuna, may either be an inheritance from the 
prehistoric past (as in the case of Mitra-Varuna on Oldenberg's interpre- 
tation), or may be due to speculation on the common aspects of Mitra and 
Varuna and of Indra and Varuna respectively, or again may reflect the 
political union of clans. The investigation of Varuna's connection with 
Mitra and with Indra affords subject matter for further studies, which 
have not been attempted in this paper. 

But in the light of the ten hymns specially addressed to Varuna which 
have been the subject of our study we are justified in making the con- 
jecture that some one Vedic clan, perhaps the clan of the Vasisthas, had 
Varuna as their chief god, and, under the influence of some Rishi having 


the spirit of an Old Testament prophet, initiated the most ethical and 
spiritual type of hymn in the Rig-Veda Collection — the penitential type. 
But whatever the origin of this type of hymn may have been, it is true, 
as Andrew Lang says, that "it would be difficult to overstate the ethical 
nobility of certain Vedic hymns, which even now affect us with a sense of 
the 'hunger and thirst after righteousness' so passionately felt by the 
Hebrew Psalmists." * And I think all will agree that Prof. Hopkins' esti- 
mate is correct when he says that "Varuna beside the loftiest figure in the 
Hellenistic pantheon stands like a god beside a man." 2 But notwithstand- 
ing his moral elevation, Varuna was not a popular god. In fact, he was 
too remote, too austere, too holy to be popular. And so Varuna, the 
ethical god of the Vedic pantheon, was displaced by other gods , especially 
by Agni the priestly god and Indra the warrior god. Had there been a 
succession of Rishis similar in experience and thought to those who com- 
posed the penitential hymns, then Varuna might have prevailed, just as 
Yahweh in Israel prevailed over the Baalim. And if Varuna had prevailed, 
the religious history of India would have been different from what it has 
been. "If Varuna had prevailed," as Prof. Bloomfield says, 3 "India would 
have become monotheistic and theocratic, which it never did." 

1 Myth, Ritual and Religion. Vol. II., p. 129. 

2 Religions of India, p. 172. 

3 The Religion of the Veda, p. 200. 


In the preceding discussion the Hebrew penitential hymns have been 
referred to. In order to facilitate comparison a translation of one of them 
is herewith presented. 

Psalm xxxii. 

I. Strophe. 

1. Blessed the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is 


2. Blessed the man unto whom Yahweh imputeth not iniquity! (his 

spirit being guileless). 

3. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all 

the day long; 

4. For by day and by night heavy on me was thy hand. 

5. [My condition] was changed to misery 

what time the thorn smote me. 

II. Steophe. 

1. My sin I make known to thee, and mine iniquity I do not cover; 

2. (I said) I confess concerning my transgression to Yahweh and 

thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. 

3. Therefore let every devotee pray unto thee in the tame of distress; 

4. At the outburst of mem?/ waters unto 7um they reacft not. 

5. Thou, my hiding-place, from straits preservest me, as deliverer 

surroundest me. 

III. Steophe. 

1. Let me instruct thee and teac7i thee in the way to go, let me coun- 

sel thee, mine eye being upon thee: 

2. Be no£ as horse as rawZe, without understanding, 

3. With harness of bridle and halter to be muzzled, so as no£ to come 

near thee. 

4. Many sorrows are for the wicked, but whoso trusteth in Yahweh 

loving kindness surroundeth him. 

5. Be afad in Yahweh and eamZJ, ye righteous, 

and be jubilant, all ye upright in heart. 
It will be seen at a glance that Hebrew poetry is related to Vedic 
poetry very much as the unconventional lines of Walt Whitman are re- 
lated to the careful verse of Tennyson. Still Hebrew verse has some 
method and system. The thirty-second Psalm, as we have it, consists of 
three strophes, each containing five pentameter lines. The lines are 
pentameter in the sense that each line has five word beats, that is, three 
and two, each accented word being printed in italics. Hebrew poetry is 
probably more primitive in character, though not in age, than Vedic poetry. 
It is possible, as Dr. Briggs x holds, that the third strophe and some phrases 
also of the other two strophes may consist of editorial and other additions. 
We have found the same kind of editorial additions in the Vedic hymns. 
The text, too, has been corrected in one or two places on the authority of 
the versions. 

1 The Book of Psalms (1906) in International Critical Commentary, Vol. 
I, pp. 276-284. 


Just one point of contact between Hebrew and Vedic thought may be 
mentioned, namely the close connection between sin and suffering which 
is found in both alike. According to the very personal account in the 32nd 
Psalm the transgressor was hard pressed under Yahweh's hand and was 
scourged as it were with a scourge of tffbrns. The reference is clearly to 
pain of body as well as to pain of spirit. Deliverance came when he con- 
fessed his transgressions to Yahweh and was forgiven by Him. Thus out 
of a deep experience of sin and its attendant misery and of the grace of 
Yahweh in forgiving the penitent sinner were born the two Beatitudes 
with which the psalm opens: 

Blessed the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is 

Blessed the man unto whom Yahweh imputeth not iniquity. 
The thought of these two beatitudes, while not explicitly stated in so many 
words in the Vedic hymns, is yet clearly implied. Compare: 

"When shall I happy-hearted see his mercy?" VII. 86, 2 

"Slave-like will I, when once my sin is pardoned, 

Serve Him the merciful, erewhile the angry." VII. 86, 7. 
"O Lord, have mercy and forgive." VII. 89, 1-4. 

"Who showeth mercy even to the sinner, 

that we might in Varuna's eyes be guiltless." VII. 87, 7. 

"Cast all these sins away like loosened fetters, 

And thy dear worshippers may we again be." V. 85, 8. 
Thus if there is any difference between Vedic and Hebrew penitential 
hymns, it is just this that the consciousness that one's sins have been for- 
given, the note of joy at the restoration of the face and favour of God, is 
more firmly struck in the Hebrew Psalms than in the Vedic. 

As we have seen, the Vedic Aryans, the Babylonians, and the Hebrews, 
all had penitential hymns. These three peoples as independent witnesses 
bear impressive testimony to the fact that repentance is fundamental to 
true religion. 




































- - - - 16-18, 28 

18-20, 27, 28 

22-24, 28 


21-22, 28, 30, 35 

7-11, 24, 28, 35 

14-16, 28, 35 

12-13, 15, 28 

13-14, 15, 28, 35 

25-27, 28, 30 




Comparative Theology and Philosophy 
Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y. 

The Executive Committee 

President, Mr. S. V. Ketkar 
Vice-President, Mr. H. Lubin 
Prof. W. F. Willcox 
Prof. J. E. Creighton 
Prof. N. Schmidt 

Secretary, Mrs. G. W. Nasmyth 
Treasurer, Mr. F. A. Burr 
Prof. H. D. Griswold 
Rev. C. W. Heizer 
Dr. E. J. Bailey 

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specified intervals as bulletins of the society. Copies of these bulle- 
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obtain copies of these bulletins from the publishers, Messrs. Taylor & 
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are eligible for membership. Applications for membership should be 
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